Alumna Works for Food Justice in Jackson

Cari Griffith portrait
Cari Griffith, produce manager at Grubb’s Grocery in Jackson, said food justice is something that drives her every day, and it is a passion she discovered while a student at Union.

“My time at Union helped me challenge systems and think about what justice means,” she said. “It made me ask hard questions about food security and what poverty is in America.”

Cari graduated from Union in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations. She was heavily involved in starting ComeUnity Café, a café in downtown Jackson that focuses on helping people and fostering community by providing healthy food options and a place to gather.

Cari said the idea of food justice prompted her to work with the café as community garden manager.

“Healthy, sustainably produced food should be available to everyone, not just the rich,” Cari said.

She said she began diving into the idea of food justice during her junior year at Union. She went to the famers market and bought a tomato plant to grow.

“That one tomato plant turned into, hopefully, a lifetime of farming,” Cari said.

When she first started thinking about food justice, Cari said she thought of places like Africa. She did not realize that there were needs far closer to home.

“At first, I only saw this on a global scale. I thought I had to go to Africa to find those needs,” she said. “But in my four years in college, mostly through working with ministries at Union, I saw that there is a great need here in Jackson.”

In her new position at Grubb’s Grocery, Cari said she is learning more about the marketing side of growing food. She said she hopes to continue providing ways for people with lower income to eat healthy, sustainable food.Cari Griffith picking sweet potatoes in the ComeUnity Cafe garden.

Union EDGE – It’s All About The Eggs

Post by Jennifer Graves, director of The Union EDGE

Recently I was at a family gathering and was asked about our Union EDGE Program and how it was going. We are teaching our students how to cook, and we had just had our very first cooking lab. For those who know me, I’m not the cooking teacher!   My assistant director, Kevin Ung, is the head chef for the Union EDGE program. The first lesson for our students was cooking eggs. Kevin demonstrated to his eager students how to scramble eggs, fry eggs, make eggs over-easy, and how to make an omelet. Each person chose the type of eggs that he or she wanted to make, and there were examples of each type.   Ethan likes his eggs fried. Seth wanted scrambled. Taylor does not really like eggs, but had fun making them. All eight students enjoyed learning a new skill. You see, the EDGE program is all about building independence. It is about teaching skills that will allow our students to be productive, independent, and safe in the community that we all share.

Two EDGE students enjoy learning to cook eggs in class

Back to the family gathering. As I shared all about the program and what it meant to each of our student students, one person said, “It really is all about the eggs.” Yes, it is. EDGE is about eggs last week, sandwiches the next, and vegetables in the near future. It is about living life.

Jennifer Graves is the director of the new Union EDGE program, which is a two year, 48-hour Postsecondary Education Program for students with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (IDD). This program is based on the Think College national standards. To find out more, check out our website. Below are some photos taken during EDGE events.

Union EDGE employees

Kelsey laughs with her mentors during the kick-off event.

Faculty mingle with EDGE students during the kick-off event The first group of Union EDGE students Blanche participates in a music therapy lesson with her mentors Maria participates in an art therapy lesson with her mentors Seth participates in an art therapy lesson with his mentors. Faculty and staff mingle with EDGE students at a shower hosted by the first lady of the university.

Alum Reflects on Student Teacher Placement in Thailand

Naomi in Thailand

Naomi Pietenpol is a 2015 mathematics alum with a teacher licensure, who spent eight weeks in Thailand for her student teaching placement. Naomi worked in the Grace International School there and took some time to share a little about her experience.

I don’t think I’ll ever make it through another day without thinking about my international student teaching experience. The community that I was welcomed into was beautiful, godly, loving, encouraging and challenging.

I worked with students from all over the world, yes, but that’s not what made them so great; they were just great kids who made a point of telling me funny stories and saying ‘hi’ in the halls. Because of the nature of the ex-pat community I was a part of, I would see my students as I biked to the market and ran to grab lunch, and I loved every time I got to see one of them. I got to go to church with them, sit in on their Bible studies and live life with them a bit.

The co-op teacher I worked with had so much experience, and from him I learned how to teach math well — those tips and tricks that make the content more accessible to students, the kind of things you usually only find out five years into it. He and the rest of the staff were patient and encouraging, and I loved being invited into their homes for meals and watching their adorable little kids so they could have a night out, or being taken along on adventures.

Families and friends took me on adventures, and I got to see places that usually reside on postcards and in dreams. I stayed with families that made me feel like family and I learned so much about the world, relationships and the Lord just from their stories. If you’re thinking of going overseas for student teaching, know that it will be a lot of transition and good-byes that are hard, but also know that it will be an amazing experience full of beautiful sights and people.

My motto was “just do it,” and it served me well. Take every opportunity to be among the local people and the people of the school, to see beautiful things, to listen to stories and make new friends; take every chance to serve and to learn, even though you’re supposed to be the one teaching.

Naomi has accepted a position teaching middle school math at Parnassus Preparatory School in Minnesota, which is based on a classical education model.

Introducing New Athletics Coaches

Darrin McClure and Jenna Kelley PortraitThe Lady Bulldog volleyball team is working with two new coaches for the upcoming season. Darrin McClure, head coach, and Jenna Kelley, assistant coach, may be new to Union, but they are veterans of the sport. McClure comes to Union after coaching at UT Martin for seven years. He brings with him a distinct enthusiasm for Union and the community here. When asked about what drew him to Union, he noted that he really enjoyed all of the people here and the Christ-centered values.  Kelley is one of McClure’s former Martin players and has been playing the sport since fifth grade. Kelley also worked for Fellowship of Christian Athletes after receiving her MBA in 2014.

We are so excited about the level of skill and enthusiasm that McClure and Kelley are bringing to the team!  They are hoping to get the girls involved on campus and be a part of the wonderful Union community. To learn more about their backgrounds, check out these new releases from

Join us Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Fred DeLay Gym for the first home match!

Susie Oliver portrait

The other new coach for the 2015-2016 season is someone already well-acquainted with Union: our first lady and now cheer coach, Susie Oliver. She started in the sport as a cheerleader in fourth grade all the way through college and began coaching in 1980. Between coaching for national competitions and even taking a group to participate in the opening ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics, Oliver brings over 30 years of experience to the table. It is obvious when talking to her that she is thrilled to be working with Union’s cheer program. Her focus right now is on recruiting and increasing the size of the squad. Oliver’s goal is to make the games a wonderful experience for fans and provide entertainment through more stunting and using both sides of the court.

Susie is eager to recruit students who are athletic and hard working, so if you know of a good candidate, don’t hesitate to contact her!

Robotics and Programming Lego Mindstorms Summer Camp

Several departments and athletic teams across campus host camps throughout the summer for local children of all ages. One example is the Robotics and Programming camp that the department of computer science organizes. Jan Wilms, department chair, started the camp seven years ago and modeled it after a camp that the physics department was doing back then. “Our department had purchased Lego Robotics kits for our Intro to Computer Science class, and they were perfect for an outreach program to middle schoolers to get them involved in science and technology,” Wilms said.

Lego Mindstorms programming interface The camp has been going on this week from 1-4pm each day. Camper Jake Lancaster said, “I like Lego camp because it’s very entertaining to program and drive the robots, and it’s fun to meet new friends.” The camp mixes fun and games with challenges like line following, maze traversal and races with the robots. Everything is built on a foundation of engineering principles and programming concepts. Wilms explains, “The kids learn about differential gears and Ackerman steering but also about advanced programming like multithreading and event-driven programming. This is possible because Lego makes available a visual programming language that is very user friendly, and the immediate feedback that the robots provide encourages trial-and-error and hones debugging skills. We even use some trigonometry that the younger ones haven’t learned yet in school, and they don’t seem to mind because it is directly applicable to getting the robot to cover the desired distance.”

Lego Mindstorms robot built at the camp Several of the campers have attended consecutive years as the camp offers something different each summer. There are many different designs available for the robots that are fun for the campers to build and test.

“Our hope is that this will inspire the kids to continue their passion and choose a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field,” says Wilms. We’ve enjoyed having these campers here all week!Camper working on his robot Dr. Wilms troubleshooting with a camper Campers testing their program A camper working on his robot Dr. Wilms troubleshooting a programming issue with a student

Union Runners Contribute to Our Jackson Home

Earlier this year, a new media group started here in Jackson called Our Jackson Home. They began with a podcast and blog and have expanded to more social media and even a beautiful magazine designed by a recent Union University art graduate. Our Jackson Home recently did a series on running, which included two Union cross country runners and an MBA graduate who is the assistant cross country coach. The series coincided with the three runners completing the Boston Marathon in April.

Here are the three posts:

We encourage you to follow along with Our Jackson Home as they tell the stories of Jackson residents and businesses. OJH has a large team of contributors behind it, many of whom graduated from Union. We’re very happy to see our graduates contributing to the local community in this way.

Bailey Bell, far left, with his teammates

Bailey Bell, far left, with his teammates

Audrey Hazelhurst, front middle, and Beth Wilson, front far right, with their teammates

Audrey Hazelhurst, front middle, and Beth Wilson, front far right, with their teammates

Rogers inherits her father’s love for Union

Lisa Rogers, portrait inside the Jackson ClinicLisa Rogers didn’t just learn about Union University when she started considering where to attend college. She had known about it all her life.

“My dad attended Union, and he was Union’s biggest fan,” Rogers says.

Rogers, a 1983 Union University graduate and a physician in obstetrics and gynecology with the Jackson Clinic, is the daughter of Melvin Williams, who was a longtime Baptist pastor in western Kentucky and West Tennessee.

“It was his habit to take juniors and seniors from his church to Union and make sure they had seen the campus and encouraged them in attending Union,” Rogers says. “They joked that he was an admissions counselor who was not on the payroll. He strongly believed in Union’s mission.”

Rogers had scholarship offers from other schools but said Union was where she felt she belonged. Participating in the Rising Senior Program as a high school senior solidified her decision to come to Union, and that’s a decision she has never regretted.

“It was a great place to grow, to have exposure to many different facets of life that I really had not seen before, to have professors who invested themselves in me, spent time with me, encouraged me, advised me, helped me to achieve my goals,” Rogers says. “Academically I was very well prepared to achieve my goals.”

Though those goals in high school included becoming a nurse, Rogers changed her mind when a friend encouraged her to become a doctor. She discussed it with her parents and prayed about the decision before determining God was leading her in that direction.

While at Union, she heard speakers such as Paul Brand, a missionary to India who took care of leprosy patients. Brand helped her to view medicine in a different light, and she says exposure to such speakers helped her to mature spiritually and to focus on practicing medicine in a way that showed the love of Christ.

Rogers with Phi Beta Chi members in 1981 yearbook

Lisa Rogers, second from right in the middle row, with fellow Phi Beta Chi members in the 1981 Lest We Forget. Phi Beta Chi was an honors physical science club.

Rogers’ involvement with Union didn’t end with her graduation. She became a trustee in 1999 and a few weeks ago was elected as chairman of Union’s Board of Trustees.

Like her father, she sees Union as a place where young people are taught to live out their faith in Christ in whatever their vocation.

“It’s great to see my alma mater continuing its mission,” she says. “Some other schools have felt they have to compromise their academic standards to keep their commitment to biblical truth, but Union strives for excellence. It’s an honor to be involved.”

Lisa Rogers talking to the pharmacist at the Jackson Clinic

Lisa Rogers in the Jackson Clinic

Residence Life Field Day and The 2015 Union Cup

On Monday evening, the Residence Life team hosted Field Day outside of the Bowld Student Commons. Over the course of the year, teams of students represented their residence hall buildings in competitions. In each competition, the teams could win points toward the final prize: The Union Cup. Two teams were neck and neck throughout the year, and the final points earned at Field Day were crucial for winning. Ultimately the men of Grey won the cup, with Ayers 1 picking up second place. Both teams did excellently and made their RAs proud!

Eleven buildings were represented in the final competition, which consisted of four relays. The prize that came along with the spectacular trophy was a steak dinner for the winning team. Winners of the individual relays also won prizes such as candy and gift cards. Congratulations to the winners! 

Below are several photos taken during Field Day. Click image to make it large and scroll through the gallery.

Blank Slate Improv group hosts “The Dub Show” Friday Night

Blank Slate Improv is a team of students that puts on improv shows throughout each year. The shows often have guests, and when tickets for Friday night’s “The Dub Show” went on sale, they sold out within two days. You can probably guess who was featured in “The Dub Show,” and it was a smashing success! On Friday night the W.D. Powell Theatre was packed full of students, employees and guests excited to see the president try his hand at improv. Of course, he did a great job, and the cast had the audience laughing all night! The next show will be May 2nd, and will feature Jared Dauenhauer, assistant director of student leadership and engagement, as guest host.

Follow Blank Slate Improv on Facebook and Twitter

Click on any photo to see larger version

WBBJ’s Douglass, McAlister tout benefits of Union broadcasting experience.

Unionuniversity_alumni_WBBJ-5Brad Douglass and Keli McAlister attended Union a decade apart. But their Union journey led them to the same place as a couple of the most recognizable faces in West Tennessee.

Brad and Keli each serve as anchors for WBBJ-TV and are seen in thousands of homes every day. Both of them were broadcasting majors, and they attribute their time at Union as being formative in their careers and in their personal growth.

“When you reach that point in your life that you go to college, you really have to make a choice,” Keli says. “Union helped solidify the choices in my life. You can go the wrong direction anytime in your life, but it really showed me how to be in the world and still be a Christian.”

Keli came to Union from Ripley, Mississippi. She had intended to go to Ole Miss, but came with some friends to visit Union. That visit changed everything for her.

“I knew then that’s where I was supposed to be,” she says. “I consider it divine intervention.”

Though she initially planned to major in psychology and then pursue law school, Sigmund Freud proved to be her undoing during her second semester (“This man’s crazy,” Keli thought). She needed to find something else. It was during a fair in the gym where all the departments were exhibiting that she talked to Kina Mallard in the communication arts department about the possibility of broadcast journalism.

“I’d grown up watching the news,” Keli says. “It was just part of our daily life. My dad always stressed knowing what’s going on in the world and understanding politics. It was perfect.”

Brad’s journey was a bit different, in that he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he transferred to Union. Originally from Brownsville, Tennessee, Brad was part of one of the first classes to be a part of Union’s communication arts department that launched in 1984. He worked in radio internships and behind the scenes at a low-powered TV station no longer on the air.

“Union gave me an experience that opened so many doors,” he says.

While Brad says his father (a pastor and also a Union alumnus) may have entertained thoughts about him going into the ministry, broadcasting was always Brad’s passion. And, he says, his work is a ministry as well.

“We get to help people,” Brad says. “When we get done at the end of the day and we close up shop and go home, we hope that we’ve helped somebody today.”

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